‘He was famous once.
No, he and Babe were famous once. But now Babe is gone, and he is alone…
He and Babe.
Now only he.’
he:A Novel is a labour of love written by bestselling author John Connolly. John Connolly had a desire to write this novel after a meeting with book store manager, Sheldon McAuthur, while on tour in LA. Their conversation turned to Laurel & Hardy and so began, for John Connolly, a fascination with these two iconic figures, in particular that of Stan Laurel.
‘There seemed to hover a more elusive presence, a being of great emotional complexity, of pain and loss, of love and regret. This book is an attempt to capture that presence.’ John Connolly
Recently published by Hodder & Stoughton, he:A Novel has just won RTE Radio 1’s The Ryan Tubridy Show Listeners’ Choice Award at the recent BGE Irish Book Awards in Dublin.
Please read on for my thoughts….
An extraordinary reimagining of the life of one of the greatest screen comedians the world has ever known: a man who knew both adoration and humiliation; who loved, and was loved in turn; who betrayed, and was betrayed; who never sought to cause pain to others, yet left a trail of affairs and broken marriages in his wake . . .
And whose life was ultimately defined by one relationship of such tenderness and devotion that only death could sever it: his partnership with the man he knew as Babe.
With he, John Connolly recreates the golden age of Hollywood for an intensely compassionate study of the tension between commercial demands and artistic integrity, the human frailties behind even the greatest of artists, and one of the most enduring and beloved partnerships in cinema history: Laurel &Hardy.
Some time back I was in Waterstones in Cork and I was chatting to John Breen about upcoming in-store events. When I heard mention of John Connolly, with a book about Stan Laurel, I was immediately intrigued.
I attended the event, which included a short of Laurel & Hardy. John Connolly’s enthusiasm was so obvious and his passion for the subject was contagious. John Connolly does accept that ‘the version of Stan Laurel depicted is a construct, and one that I accept may not meet with unanimous approval’ With that in mind I approached this book with a very uncritical eye.
Like most of us I grew up watching old B & W sketches of Laurel & Hardy, Chaplin, Harold Lloyd and The Three Stooges. I laughed at the comedy and I enjoyed the slapstick of the moments caught, but I never once gave any thought to the person behind these characters. These were funny men. That’s all I knew.
In he:A Novel John Connolly portrays a very different image of these individuals. His words, while reimagined, are none the less very emotive.
In the novel, Stan Laurel is referred to as He. We travel on his journey with him from the vaudeville performances in the early days through to his days in Hollywood and beyond. We read about his many marriages, his failure to love and be loved, his constant need to be better, his apparent adulation of Charlie Chaplin and his love for his best friend ,Oliver Hardy.
For anyone with an encyclopedic knowledge of this era I have no doubt that there will be many criticisms. But for me, I approached this novel as one writer’s take on a subject he found particularly fascinating, not as a reference book for educational purposes.
Hal Roach, the American film and television producer, played a big role in the creation of Laurel & Hardy. He is depicted in this novel as quite a tough and hardened character who underpaid both actors and sought to keep them under his thumb during the years of making movies together.
Charlie Chaplin is portrayed as quite an unpleasant individual, with a lifestyle that was far from what the general public would have been aware of.
There are references to many great actors of the 1920’s and 1930’s following their tragic demise after the introduction of the ‘talkies’
We are introduced to Laurel & Hardy’s fascinating relationship with Ben Shipman, their lawyer and life-long friend, and how he made numerous attempts to keep their reputations intact.
Both Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy had tragedy in their lives, as is mentioned in the book. They both struggled in holding down relationships resulting in numerous marriages and huge alimony payouts.
They worked hard, played hard but I wonder did they ever truly find happiness?
‘he was one of the most famous screen comedians in the world
he was loved by millions
he was divorced four times
he was betrayed by his idol
he lost a fortune
he lost his greatest friend
he is Stan Laurel’
This book brings us to the last days of Stan Laurel’s life as he looks back over his career. He is a sad man with very many regrets, a man who wishes life had been different. A man who is nothing without his best friend. This is his story, as reimagined by John Connolly.
he:A Novel is written in a style that may not be to everyone’s taste. Sentences are short, staccato, which for me were reminiscent of the style of ‘speech’ used in the early movies. There is quite a liberal use of the F-word with sexual connotations. which may be offensive to some.
he:A Novel is a book that needs to be read slowly. It takes the reader on a journey back to The Golden Age of Hollywood, with a look back at the demise of the silent movie and the impact it had on all those involved.
he:A Novel is a difficult book to box off into any particular genre. It is biographical with a creative twist. It is historical fiction. It is really John Connolly’s tribute to the man, Stan Laurel, that he respected for his art, his humour and most of all his legacy.
I’ll leave you with John Connolly’s words ~ ‘by the end of writing this book, I loved Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy more than ever, with their flaws, in all their humanity, and my admiration for their artistry had only increased.’
Purchase Link ~ he:A Novel
About John Connolly:
John was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1968 and has, at various points in his life, worked as a journalist, a barman, a local government official, a waiter and a dogsbody at Harrods department store in London. (A dogsbody, for our North American friends, is a ‘go-fer’.) He studied English in Trinity College, Dublin and journalism at Dublin City University, subsequently spending five years working as a freelance journalist for The Irish Times newspaper. He divides his time between Dublin and Portland, Maine; makes regular donations to the wine industry; and keeps a number of dogs in a remarkable degree of comfort.
Website ~ https://www.johnconnollybooks.com/
Twitter ~ @jconnollybooks